Charlie Appleby: why are the rules of racing so different when we’re all doing the same thing?

Charlie Appleby: “What many in the anti-racing lobby tend to forget is that Thoroughbreds are bred to gallop and race. They love it. They are not household pets.” Photo:

Charlie Appleby has just completed another stellar season as a Godolphin trainer. He was responsible for two outstanding horses in Pinatubo, who turned in the best performance by a 2-year-old in 25 years when winning the National Stakes at the Curragh by nine lengths, and Blue Point, who completed Royal Ascot’s G1 sprint double, the King’s Stand and Diamond Jubilee Stakes. Both horses were honoured at last week’s Cartier Awards in London.

Appleby, currently ranked world #3 in the TRC Global Rankings, is also one of four nominees — along with Andrew Balding, John Gosden and Mark Johnston — for flat trainer of the year in Britain at the forthcoming prestigious Horserace Writers’ and Photographers Association Derby Awards (December 2).


Who do you believe is the most important figure in the history of racing around the world?

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed. He has been a colossus on racing’s world stage for more than 40 years, and his impact on racing globally is far-reaching and ongoing. Having worked closely with him in various roles for many years (the latest as one of his Godolphin UK trainers), I constantly marvel at his vision and drive. And his passion for racing is as strong as it has ever been. 

I believe Meydan racecourse is a good example of all those three qualities. He wanted a world-class track in the UAE, which he masterminded and built in spectacular style. It stands as a symbol of his huge investment and commitment to the sport he loves.

Which is your favourite venue and race in the world?

Meydan is a wonderful racecourse and, in just under a decade, it has established itself as the venue for some of the world’s great races.  Meydan on Dubai World Cup night is very special. It has a unique atmosphere, with an influx of overseas guests flying in to join an enthusiastic local crowd for a series of the richest races in the world. The World Cup card marks the conclusion of the DWC Carnival, which covers 11 racedays from January to March, with the World Cup night being the climax. 

For us at Godolphin, Royal Ascot is always very important, as, too, is the VRC Carnival at Flemington, featuring the Melbourne Cup. 

What is your fondest memory in racing?

Outstrip winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita on November 1, 2013 (see video below).

I had been appointed a Godolphin trainer only four months earlier, and to train a winner at such a big international meeting was very satisfying. I felt very proud. It was surreal standing at the presentation ceremony. I remember thinking at the time, “I have been in racing 24 years, and I never imagined this would happen.”

Of course, training Masar to win the 2018 Investec Derby at Epsom was also a fond memory. Masar, by New Approach, is home-bred and comes from a strong female line that HH Sheikh Mohammed has developed over many generations. He was also the first to win the Derby in Godolphin’s royal blue colours. Then, in the same year, Cross Counter put the icing on the cake by taking the Melbourne Cup.

What do you see as the biggest challenge racing faces today?

The public perception of racing. After three centuries of horse racing being widely celebrated as one of the most admirable and noble sports in Britain, we find ourselves challenged by certain factions about the way we treat our horses and the reasons we race them. 

Horse welfare has always been of paramount importance at Godolphin, and HH Sheikh Mohammed and his team are painstaking in their efforts to ensure that any horse under the Godolphin/Darley banner is given the best professional care and attention from the time of foaling to the end of that horse’s career on the racecourse and later in retirement.

What many of those in the anti-racing lobby tend to forget is that Thoroughbreds are bred to gallop and race. They love it. They are not household pets. I think everybody would agree, the racehorse is the most majestic of animals, and every day I feel I am fortunate to be working with them. 

If you could change one thing in racing, what would it be?

I would like to see uniformity worldwide regarding the Rules Of Racing. Godolphin are a global stable and we invest a lot in the expertise required to compete at the highest level in a variety of jurisdictions around the world. But the number of differences in procedure and interpretation of guidelines and rules is baffling at times. How can a sport that has fundamentally the same objective — one horse galloping in competition with a rival to reach the winning post first — throw up so many issues?

Track surfaces, medication rules, veterinary restrictions, quarantine, jockeys’ tactics, rules on interference — and that is to name just a few — are never the same everywhere. It would be so much easier if they were.

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